Back to December 2017

The Showstoppers: High-Quality Pecan Cultivars from the Texas Pecan Show

Top ten cultivars to help you choose your own winning pecan.

The four judges for the Texas Pecan Show gather around a table and examine plates filled with pecan kernels.

Judges for the 2018 Texas Pecan Show examine entries and select the Texas Grand Champions for the 2018 crop. (Photo by Catherine Clark)

Pecan shows are a time-honored November-December tradition in Texas. Although rudimentary pecan shows were held in the early decades of the 1900s, the Texas Pecan Growers Association hosted the first official Texas Pecan Show in 1950. County Extension offices began holding local shows in 1953. The TPGA and Extension shows merged in the late 1950s, sending their collective entries to the Texas A&M University Memorial Student Center for a large state judging competition held each December.

As time went on, the Texas Pecan Show outgrew this venue. The 1965 state pecan show had a remarkable but unwieldy 1,027 entries from around the state. Regional shows were then implemented to make the handling, processing, and viewing of the pecans more feasible. The state competition was delayed an additional seven months by freezing all the nut entries so that the show could be viewed at the Texas Pecan Growers annual July conference.

Sixty-seven years of pecan shows have contributed significantly to our knowledge of how to grow good pecans. It takes competitive people with pride in their ability to obtain a successful outcome after years of tree nurturing and months of crop protection. Winning a grand or reserve champion at the Texas state pecan show is challenging, but there have been people throughout its history that have won multiple times. Call them the “Babe Ruth,” “Michael Jordan,” or “Joe Montana” of pecan competition.

In the early years, their names were Nelson Hander, Charles Dankworth, Troy Lewis and E.G. Risien. Since the judging classification system changed in 1989, some of the people with the most state champion awards include Olivia Weiser-Mize, M&S Orchards, Jim Welch, Lloyd Boedeker and Robert Schuetze.

The people that win the state pecan show are from diverse parts of Texas. Some of them grow pecans on less than ideal soil with irrigation water quantity or quality that are sometimes marginal. Some of them are small growers with improvised equipment for managing their trees.

In general, they have two secrets to success. First, they follow the best management practices for growing pecans. They understand tree sunlight requirements, crop load management, insects, fertilizer, what their trees are lacking and when they need to do something. Second, they know which pecan cultivars are showstoppers—the ones that capture the judges’ eyes with their color, appearance and high percent kernel.

Pecan shows typically favor cultivars that consistently deliver high-quality kernels. Sure, pecan nut size is important at a pecan show, and size matters in marketing, but history has taught many pecan growers, especially those that direct market their crop, that high-quality pecan kernels drive customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Thus, within a cultivar class (‘Desirable,’ ‘Choctaw,’ etc.), the winning sample is usually the one that combines good to exceptional size with the best kernel percentage, uniformity, absence of defects and very light (golden to cream) color. Better taste in pecans, although not a factor in a pecan show, has been historically linked to light, creamy or golden-colored kernels.

Kernel color is genetically influenced. Some cultivars have better genes for light shades of kernel color, and others naturally have more “veining,” mottling or simply darker, brown tones of kernel color. Dark-colored or mottled kernels may taste fine, but they may also reflect a loss of quality (and taste) from tree stress, wet weather at harvest or poor handling and storage after harvest. Rarely, if ever, do light-colored, golden to cream-colored pecan kernels taste bad.

Cultivar selection, therefore, is an important decision in the process of developing a new pecan orchard or renovating an existing one. If direct-marketing, obtaining better wholesale prices, selling pecans overseas, or even winning a pecan show is the goal, then growers should seek out pecan cultivars that deliver high-quality pecans.

The list shown below is an “all-star” list of ten show stoppers in the Texas Pecan Show. These cultivars can be found at the many pecan shows’ judge’s table when the grand champions are being decided. The cultivars in this list are strictly included for their show-winning capability. In the right climate, on the right site, with the right management, they can produce a high-quality kernel. None of them are suited to all climates, soils or management situations.

Cultivar traits—scab susceptibility, alternate bearing index, budbreak date, shuck-split date, etc.—should be investigated thoroughly when planning a pecan orchard of any size. Also, growers should always consult their home state Extension system for pecan cultivar recommendations.

Showstopper Pecan Cultivars (in no particular order):

  • ‘Forkert:’ This is an old, Ocean Springs, Mississippi cultivar that came from a controlled cross of ‘Success’ and ‘Schley.’ In the Texas Pecan Show, it averages 42 nuts per pound and 60.8 percent kernel. It will commonly yield 62 to 63 percent kernel in top samples. Kernel color is typically light and kernel texture is smooth. It has narrow dorsal kernel grooves and a thin shell that is prone to cracking in some mechanical harvesting situations. It is moderately susceptible to pecan scab and will require fungicide treatment in more humid growing regions.
  • ‘Desirable:’ Another Ocean Springs cultivar was introduced in 1914 by C.F. Forkert (who also introduced ‘Forkert’). This cultivar is well-known and documented to have a serious problem today with pecan scab in the Southeast. It has averaged 39 nuts per pound and 53.5 percent kernel in the Texas pecan show. It does not win grand champion as frequently because of its more modest kernel percentages, but it competes well because of kernel color and consistency in appearance.
  • ‘Schley:’ This old cultivar originated in the late 1800s in Jackson County, Mississippi. Sometimes called ‘Eastern Schley,’ this cultivar is not to be confused with ‘Western Schley’ (or ‘Western’). Schley has long been known and recognized in the industry as a high-quality cultivar, but it’s very susceptible to scab and as such is a liability in the Southeast. Although ‘Schley’ is grown less and less in Texas, it still shows up in pecan shows from time to time, averaging 52 nuts per pound and 59 percent kernel. Kernel percentage can exceed 60 percent in good samples, and it yields a light-colored kernel.
  • ‘Sioux:’ Under the Agricultural Research Service’s Pecan Breeding Program, the United States Department of Agriculture released the ‘Sioux’ variety in 1962 as a controlled cross of ‘Schley’ and ‘Carmichael.’ In the pre-1989 era of the Texas Pecan Show, it was the cultivar with the most grand and reserve champion awards. ‘Sioux’ is a medium-sized nut cultivar that doesn’t bear as heavily as some but can be counted on for producing some of the lightest (pale cream) and smoothest-textured kernels. Its historical averages in the Texas shows are 59 nuts per pound and 59 percent kernel. It is medium in terms of scab susceptibility. ‘Sioux’ has been grown in the Southeast but is more suited to Central Texas.
  • ‘Cheyenne:’ Over the entire history of the Texas Pecan Show, this cultivar has garnered the most grand and reserve champions at the state level, averaging 46 nuts per pound and 57 percent kernel. Released in 1970, ‘Cheyenne’ is a USDA controlled cross of ‘Clark’ and ‘Odom.’ It yields very light-colored kernels with a characteristically wrinkled texture. ‘Cheyenne’ is highly susceptible to Scab, has problems with yellow aphids and overbears, and its planting in new orchards has declined in recent years.
  • ‘Waco:’ The USDA released this descendent of two high-quality parent cultivars—‘Cheyenne’ and ‘Sioux’—in 2005. Like its parents, it can deliver very eye-appealing kernels. It averages 43 nuts per pound and 58 percent kernel. It has medium to high scab susceptibility, so it is marginal for East Texas or eastward. ‘Waco’ trees have good structure and bear well. The cultivar is still new, but when it shows up in pecan shows, it competes well.
  • ‘Waco Wonder:’ A seedling from Waco, Texas, propagated by Mr. Robert Schuetze, who grows it in Milam County, Texas. Little is known about it, except that the tree bears some resemblance and bearing traits to ‘Desirable’ but has a higher kernel percentage, averaging 38 nuts per pound and 59 percent kernel. The kernels are visually very attractive. ‘Waco Wonder’ appears to have medium susceptibility to scab, but it has not been tested outside Central and East Texas.
  • ‘Keilers:’ Another Texas seedling cultivar originated in the Austin area by Werner Keilers. It was championed by the late Fred Stockbauer of Victoria, Texas, who called it ‘Stockbauer’ for a period of time. It has moderate to high scab susceptibility, but other performance potential is relatively unknown, being a local selection that has never been tried on a large scale. In the Texas Pecan Show, it averages 39 nuts per pound and 59 percent kernel, but higher kernel percentages have been measured.
  • ‘Hopi:’ This is a relatively new USDA release (1999) that was entered in pecan shows in the 1950s and later under its USDA controlled cross ID (‘39-5-50’), because it was so impressive in terms of kernel color (pale cream) and kernel percentage. It is a ‘Schley’ and ‘McCulley’ cross. Over time, it has averaged 54 nuts per pound and 60 percent kernel. It is a scab-susceptible cultivar that is neither precocious nor heavy bearing but is frequently in the discussion for a grand or reserve champion award in pecan shows.
  • ‘Prilop:’ A native cultivar from Lavaca County, Texas was found on land owned by G.W. Prilop. Texas Pecan Shows include a division for natives, and ‘Prilop’ was the state champion native in 1991. It was then moved into its own pecan show cultivar class, due to its local popularity and propagation in South Texas. Consistent high-quality kernels are its calling card, averaging 78 nuts per pound and 55 percent kernel. While it can approach 60 percent kernel, its light golden color and consistent lack of flaws make it so competitive in pecan shows. It is considered medium in scab susceptibility, showing good resistance outside its “home area” but scabbing readily within that region.

Here are some honorable mentions: Apache, Apalachee, Barton, Brake, Caddo, GraTex, Elliott, and Wichita.

The list provided here is not intended to be authoritative, all-inclusive or exhaustive. Across all pecan growing regions in the U.S., there are hundreds of named cultivars, local seedlings, and natives that are prized for their high quality. Cultivars that perform well in one region of the U.S. may not produce the same level of quality in another region. Regional, unbiased cultivar development and evaluation remain a big need for the pecan industry today. The cultivar list above is provided to reflect what we have learned from 67 years of Texas Pecan Shows—that good cultivars in the hands of good growers result in an outstanding product.

Author Photo

Monte Nesbitt

Dr. Nesbitt is an Extension Program Specialist – Pecan/Fruit/Citrus at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, College Station.